Retrofuturism simply put is the portrayal of the future using ideas from a certain era of the past. It comes in all shapes and sizes, if I were to list ever subcategory in the area and subtle differences between them we could be here for days on end. There are however a few of them I’m going to talk about that cover some of the well known examples of it in pop culture in order to hopefully give those of you that don’t already have a grasp on the subject a bit of an idea as to what’s what in yesterdays world of tomorrow.
Arguably the most popular form of Retrofuturism, Steampunk is heavily influenced by the Victorian era and the industrial revolution. It imagines a world that runs almost entirely on steam power, with advanced mechanical brass contraptions, blimp like lighter-than-air ships and large sky bound smokestacks. Its influences root in early science fiction books by authors like H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley and Jules Verne. Their collective visions of the future inspired a visual style that has become immensely popular. Think of the mechanical invaders in War of the Worlds and you’re on the right track.
Moving forward in time we have Dieselpunk, named in a similar fashion to Steampunk its based prominently on technology powered by (you guessed it) diesel. A popular theme here is a Second World War setting, often based on bizarre concept technologies that were worked on by the Nazi’s and Allied Forces. Art deco is also a big player in the visual aesthetics of the genre, engulfing the style of the times. There are plenty of examples of this in the media, one of the most on the nose being perhaps Sky Captain’s and the World of Tomorrow. You can also see the theme’s presence in Captain America stories set during the war, the Indiana Jones movies and the Wolfenstein games.
Atompunk is inspired by the early Cold War era, when nuclear war was a constant fear after the end of World War II. Technologies usually have close ties to those used in Dieselpunk and the two are closely linked, though here you’ll see plenty of references to atom splitting, soviet styling and most notably, plays on the early days of the space age. Good examples of Atompunk can be found the popular game series Fallout, Star Trek: The Original Series, and of course The Jetsons.
If Steampunk isn’t the most popular category of Retrofuturism then Cyberpunk likely is. This is a genre that relies heavily on the grungy future visions of the 1980s. Stylised leather jackets, neon pink lights, flying cars and very little natural light, Cyberpunk is a world built entirely on 80s computer technology and a world without greenery and with skyscrapers filling every speck of land possible. The Blade Runner films are a fantastic representation of the genre, you can also check out films like Ghost in the Shell, Robocop and The Matrix for a good variety of samples.